Outdoor Allergies

Step outside and hope your allergies don’t flare up. Does that describe your life? You are not to blame. The culprits are pollen from trees, grasses, and ragweed, and mold growing in outdoor locales such as piles of leaves.

Devise a strategy to survive outdoor barbecues, weddings, sporting events, yard work, even a walk around the block. Tree and grass pollen and mold spores get tossed in the air and can set off the nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy nose, and sneezing that are hallmarks of hay fever.

Scheme against these airborne attackers. Your healthcare professional can help you identify your exact allergens and devise a plan. Your approach may include methods for avoiding allergens, plus over-the-counter medication to treat symptoms. 

  • Tree Pollen

    Plants, especially trees, grasses, and weeds, release pollen to float in the air to fertilize plants of the same species.

    But don't be quick to blame your beautiful flowers: Most flowering plants instead depend on insects to carry pollen from flower to flower – think honeybees.(i)

    Typically, the source of pollen is those trees, grasses, weeds with pollen so light and dry that the breeze picks it up and spreads it through the air.

    That’s when pollen hits your eyes, your nose, your throat, your lungs, causing those oh-too-familiar allergy symptoms.

    Major tree pollen producers are alder, ash, aspen, beech, birch, boxelder, cedar, cottonwood, elm, hickory, mountain elder, mulberry, oak, olive, pecan, poplar, and willow.(ii)

    Among plant pollen producers are ragweed, Bermuda grass, bluegrass, nettle, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and English plantain.

    Hidden danger of tree pollen allergies: If you are allergic to certain trees, you may also be allergic to some foods. There are fruits, vegetables, and nuts that contain the same irritating protein that causes the same allergy symptoms as tree pollen.

    For example, people who are sensitive to birch pollen sometimes also have a food allergy reaction to raw apples. Oral allergy symptoms may include swelling or itching of the mouth or face. Common culprits for this cross- reaction are apples, cherries, pears, and nuts. (iii)

  • Grass Pollen

    When maintaining your yard or attending your child’s soccer games or other activity near grass makes you sick, especially in springtime, it’s time to think about pollen from grasses. (iv)

    Like other plants, many grasses send pollen into the air, especially when the weather is dry and windy.

    Here are some common grass varieties that tend to create allergic reactions: Bermuda, Johnson, Kentucky, Orchard, Redtop, Rye, Sweet Vernal, and Timothy.

    You may suspect grass pollen allergy if:

    • Your allergies flare on dry, windy days;

    • You also have cross-reactions to plant-based foods such as raw celery and tomatoes and sweet fruits including oranges, melons, and peaches;

    • Your lawn is overgrown.

    The doctor can test for sensitivity to grass pollen. (v)

  • Ragweed Pollen

    Ragweed pollen is often to blame for allergies that flare up in late summer and fall.

    If your hay fever, with symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy nose, and sneezing, seems to be at its worst in mid-September, it may be time to consider whether you are allergic to any number of the 17 ragweed varieties in the U.S.

    Ragweed pollen may be produced from August into November. Some 23 million Americans suffer from this seasonal allergy.

    Another clue that you may be allergic to ragweed pollen: oral allergy symptoms when eating certain raw fruits and vegetables or nuts that grow on trees. If you get itchy mouth, scratchy throat, or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat when eating these items, think about whether your hay fever is triggered by pollen from ragweed, grass, or birch trees.

    Medications, both prescription and over the counter, are available to help control symptoms. Doctors suggest taking them two to 12 weeks prior to the time that you expect your worst symptoms, depending on the medication you use. Check with your healthcare professional. (i)

    Ragweed grows in 49 of the 50 U.S. states – only Alaska is free of ragweed. Its pollen is especially light and has been found miles into the ocean and up in the air. This means its especially important to clean up after being outdoors during ragweed season: keep your hair covered outdoors, wash your hair and your clothes after you come inside. To prevent pollen from reaching your eyes and nose, try wearing sunglasses and a mask when you go outdoors. (ii)

  • Mold

    Mold is one of those allergens that triggers reactions indoors or outdoors.

    As a fungus, mold sends spores into the air that in turn can get into your body and give you allergy symptoms. (vi)

    Outdoor mold is often most prevalent in spring and fall, but in warmer climates, can be present all year-round.

    Piles of leaves, old wood, piles of hay can promote the growth of mold that then spark allergic reactions. Symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.